Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (May 12, 1925 - September 22, 2015) was one of the most colorful, beloved and most talented players the game of baseball has ever seen. Berra’s parents, immigrants from Italy, settled in St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood, known as “The Hill”. Larry, or Lawdie as his parents called him in a heavy Italian accent, spent much of his time playing baseball rather than focusing on his studies and eventually dropped out f school as an eighth grader. He took on a few jobs to help make ends met for the family, but was often fired for leaving work early to play ball with his friends as they were dismissed from school. Future Major Leaguer Joe Garagiola, his closest friend, grew up a block away and played American Legion ball with Larry. It was there that friend and teammate, Bobby Hofman (also a future Major Leaguer) nicknamed Larry “Yogi” because he often sat crossed legged and cross-armed on the ground due to a full bench. It stuck! The two were eventually offered contracts with the St. Louis Cardinals, though the 6’0” Garagiola was offered a $500 bonus and Berra nothing so he rejected the Cards offer. Though he was ultimately turned away by his hometown team, potentially by general manager Branch Rickey, who had sights on signing Yogi once he became the GM for the Brooklyn Dodgers shortly thereafter, the New York Yankees signed the 5’8” 185 lbs. stout outfielder in 1943, giving him the same $500 bonus that Garagiola received. Because the Yanks were relatively stacked in the outfield with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Lindell and Tommy Henrich, and Yogi was less than impressive in the outfield, New York converted him to a catcher in the minor leagues, working under the expert tutelage of Hall of Famer catcher Bill Dickey. Berra later credited Dickey for his success saying, “I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey.”
Yogi played one season in the minors for the Yankees before enlisting in the United States Navy, seeing time as a machine gunner during the Normandy Invasion. Upon his return, Berra backed up Aaron Robinson behind the plate for the first two seasons, helping New York reach and win the World Series in only his second big league season (1947). What would become a trend for Berra. He slowly and surely became one of the league’s top catchers, but his style at the plate caught the most attention as he developed into one of the great clutch hitters in history despite being considered a “bad ball” hitter. Yogi’s ability to cover the entire plate, and often golf low pitches deep for home runs made him one of the most feared hitters in the American League. In 1948, he earned his first of 18 selections to the MLB All-Star Game and a year later helped the Yankees march to the first of five straight World Series titles (1949-1953). After batting .294 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 1951, Yogi Berra was named the American League Most Valuable Player for the first of three times (1951, 1954, 1955). Berra was a key link to the changing of the guards in the Bronx as he began his career playing alongside Joe DiMaggio and finished his career playing alongside Mickey Mantle, among other Yankee greats during his 18-year tenure in pinstripes (1946-1963). While donning the Yankees uniform, he won 14 American League pennants and a record ten World Series titles. He holds the World Series records for games (75), at-bats (259) and doubles (10) and hits (71). Yogi caught two no-hitters in his career including Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Yogi Berra finished his Yankees playing days having amassed 2,150 hits including 321 doubles and 358 home runs, 1,175 runs scored and a .285 batting average while only striking out 414 times in more than 7,500 at-bats. In 1950, Berra struck out only 12 times in 597 at-bats but blasted 28 homers.
When his playing days seemed over, Yogi was hired to manage the Yankees and quickly led them to the American League pennant in 1964 before losing to his hometown Cardinals in seven games. Berra served as player/manager for one final season with the New York Mets (1965) – he appeared in only four games, Berra began a coaching career that spanned nearly three decades. Yogi helped lead the Mets to the 1969 World Series title as a coach and as manager helped them win the 1973 National League pennant. As a manager, Yogi Berra compiled a record of 484-444 in 588 games with the Yankees (1964, 1984-1985) and the Mets (1972-1975). He also coached for the Houston Astros from 1985 to 1989. Through the years, Berra has coined some of the most unique quotes to enter the American lexicon, known as “Yogiisms.” For instance, when referring to the fact that his Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9-1/2 games late in the 1973 season, he wisely stated, “It ain’t over till it’s over”. His humor was legendary and apparent even from a young age. When asked as a boy how he liked school, he wryly responded, “Closed.” Then, when giving directions to his home, he once told boyhood friend Joe Garagiola “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” One of many back-to-back home runs by Mickey Mantle Roger Maris gave America, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” And, of course, when asked about St. Louis’ Ruggeri’s restaurant, Yogi responded with “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Yogi Berra was one of the great ambassadors of Major League Baseball. Yogi was named to The Sporting News’ 100 Greatest Baseball Players list and Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team, and in 1972 had his #8 (also Bill Dickey’s number) retired at Yankee Stadium. Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.